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Space Art
creating great backgrounds of starfields and nebulae
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This tutorial is based on a Dan Ritchie Quick tutorial - Space Tutorial - it should work the same way or similarly with the free version of PD 1.2, PD Artist, PD Pro and even PD Particles

Here's a 3D animation which was created in Carrara.
The background was painted in PD Artist.

click 'play' button to view animation

Some post work was added in PD Pro after
the Carrara 3D rendering.

click 'play' button to view animation

The first step in creating space art, is to create or select a brush containing a star image.

PD Pro has several tools to produce star-like images. One way is the FX (effects) brush creator tool:

  1. open the Brush settings (e.g. keyboard 'o' for options or click the brush image thumbnail in upper-left corner of the Tools panel)
  2. Select the "Custom" tab
  3. click the small "FX" icon (along left or bottom of the panel, depending on which version you have)
  4. Scroll through the many pre-defined FX brushes shuch as Explode or BlueGreen.

Alternatively you could also use the "Starry" brushes in the internal Organic Effects brushes. These are available in PD 1.2 (freeware version) as well as PD Artist, and PD Particles.

In the tools panel, right-click the brush tool icon.

Select Organic Effects.

Select Starry.

In PD Particles, click the Presets button, then Organic Effects menu, and select Starry.

Near the bottom of the internal Brushset (default brush images) you'll find two starry images.

Or, you could also find other images with starry appearance.

Right-click the brush image thumbnail in the upper-left corner of the Tools panel. This opens the Brushes panel, which contains built-in (internal) brush images.

With PD 2.1 or PD Pro you can even load your own, alternate image collections. See some examples here. These are brushsets by Cybersign's Martin Duerr. Danke schoen Martin!

There are also some great starry images amongst those from Manuel Zander of Trionix. In fact, one of Manuel's tools is a free plugin for Dogwaffle, which is called CopyShape and which can create new images for use in brushes with Dogwaffle, TVPaint (formerly Mirage) or other tools (copy to Clipboard). See CopyShape here.

 Or in PD Particles, select the menu: 

Window > Brush Images

This creates or selects a star image or similarly interesting shape for use in our project.

If you now erase the main buffer image to black, you can then place a few stamped down dabs of your star here or there.

You could also add some random size from the Brush settings (options) panel so they don't all appear the same size. Dito for random hue, brightness (value) and angle.

What we really want to do though is add some random postioning and size. This will make sure that it's less boring, more diverse and realistic looking.

If it's a custom brush (as opposed to an internal brush from the brushsets), you'll need to enable the transforming, for scale and rotation. Random position doesn't take much time, but random size or angle does (on slow computers or large custom images), so it's an option which is not enabled by default.

Click the checkbox for "Allow custom brush transforms"

In PD Artist you can not transform custom brushes by way of random size or angle. So you'll be limited to random position. But that's not realy a big deal, since the most important element here is random postion. You can easily resample the brush image when you need a diffrent size and aint with that new size a while before changing it again to yet another size.
Here's a look at some of the Brush settings. Your mileage may vary, it depends on exactly which version you have. But most have similar features.

Apply a little randomness to hue, saturation and value, but don't go overboard unless you really want to create a very colorful effect.

Also, get the Steps to a high value. That will spread the stars apart so they're not too close to eachother. Otherwise you'll get an awful lot of stars. Of course, if you're going for something like a dwarf galaxy or a globular star cluster with tens of thousands of stars, that's what you want. But for nebular with open star clusters, usually containing a few hundred to lower thousands of stars, have the steps high, and just paint a little longer to accumulate more stars over time.

You can now freely paint your space scene.

Be sure to leave some areas more dense with many stars than others. This will allow for dark matter effects. Feel free to switch between various brush images.

If you use PD Pro you might want to use an animated brush contaning several starry images of different styles and sizes that it cycles through as you paint, so it essentially does the switching on-the-fly for you.

Using different Mode values is also recommended.

There is an Additive mode which makes great brigh spots.

There's a screen mode and others which are useful too. Try the Subtractive mode to makr darker areas re-appear and grow darker and larger.

Use the Opacity if the effect is too fast. To reduce the effect, reduce opacity.

We'll now switch to Smear mode, without otherwise changing the brush, i.e. still with large step and similar brush image, random position etc...

This lets us spread out the stars and get a great diffuse nebulae effect going.

Once again, if the effect is too strong, reduce its impact by reducing the Opacity.

The Bleed parameter in the Brush settings (options) can also be useful.

As a final touch, go back to the Additive mode, and add just a few bright stars.

Adding a bright Nova

Right-click the Line or Linear tool and select "Nova" from the menu.

Set primary and secondary colors to dark purple and dark green or blue, for example.

Add a few nova at same location with different angles for no-overlapping stars.

Here's an example created using the Nova tool in PD Artist.

Even more sophisticated light effects are possible with PD Pro 4.1's lens flare engine.

One thing you'll be tempted to try also is to make it look like this bright star is pushing away the gas and interstellar dust. You might start with a few darker regions, all around, and some entering to near the center. Use the Subtractive mode again..

You can try reduced (very low) opacity but then counter act the effect by reducing the step to a smaller value. And reduce the random position offest. That way you can paint dark branches which somewhat follow your brush strokes such as the one coming in from the mid-left.

Along the top-right there are also a few brush strokes that went from mid upper left to mid lower right a few times. first near across the middle bright spot, then more of them parallel but farther away and then yet again farther away. The resulting effect would be to make it appear to go in different stages. Perhaps this can convey the impression of shockwaves of stellar solar wind.

Copy to Swap from the Buffer menu (Image menu in PD Pro)

This is a quick way to keep a snapshot of the current image and have it ready in the alternate 'swap' buffer, where it can be used for various compositing effects with the front main image buffer.

For example, apply a Blur filter next to the main image buffer.

This is the Zoom blur - specify the location of the zoom hotspot.

You could also first create a selection mask so that the blur is contained near and inside the nebula and won't affect faraway stars.

If the blur effect is too strong, too intense, reduce the effect by blending it back to the prior image: Fade Last action

Adjust the fade slider to get the right amount. You can see some of the non-blurred image and the blurred image at the same time. This keeps the dark globules and dark matter crisper.

Now click the upper-right thumbnail, to enable Swap mixing (blending the main and swap buffer images)

The orange tringle in upper left corner of the thumbnail indicates that blending is enabled.

Right-click the same icon in upper right of the Tools panel and select various modes. Try Multiply.

Or Screen or Around grey

Add a few Nova strokes. It may create the ritgh desired amoiunt of bright saturation inside the nebular, and some added blueish haze on the outer skirts of the  center.

Another neat effect is the effect brushes 'Smear', 'Smudge' or Modeling Clay

In either case try first with reduced opacity so the effect is not too intense.

Draw some brush strkes from the center to the outer areas. Draw a few in various directions, all starting from the center.

Especially try a few strokes across the dark mass globules to make it look like solar wind is hacking away at them.

 Go back to the paint brush, subtractive mode, and add more dark matter around and perhaps even some across the equatorial plane. PErhaps this belongs to the remnants of a super nova?

Hm,.. this went so fast, I don't recall which tool I used here.

Oh well, it looks great.

The top of the nebulae's rim, check it out.

Now we're going into more cosmological effects: gravitational hotspots, lenses, anomalies...

Perhaps a black hole in front of it all? Or a worm hole travelling across the region?

You can paint a few at low bias. Great local smearing effects, non-linear distortions too.

And here's one which Albert Einstein would probably have liked.